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My First United Game: United 2 Southampton 1 – 01/02/1997

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I felt sick. Really sick. Why was i feeling like this on probably the biggest day of my life so far?

Was it the train journey? Or could it be the chips i’d just had from Lou Macari’s chip shop? 

It was neither. 

As I reached the top of the steps entering the Stretford End the horrible sickness feeling I had disappeared in an instant. I was here, the Theatre of Dreams, the home of the greatest football team on earth.  

I’d started to take an interest in football at the age of 6, my dad was a big Manchester United supporter so i never really had a choice of following any other team, not that i would want to anyway. I had always watched United when they were on television and Old Trafford, the fans, the pitch and the players all seemed like something out of a film. It didn’t seem real, too good to be true almost.

So when I got home from school on the Friday afternoon and saw 2 tickets for United against Southampton just sitting there on the table i couldn’t quite believe my eyes, my dream was to become a reality. I barely slept a wink that night, so many emotions running through my head. You would think that excitement would be the strongest one but sadly it was far from it.  I felt nervous, worried, anxious, my head was full of doubts. Would we get to the game ok, would my ticket work, would it be everything I’d dreamed of?

Southampton at home, a strong starting eleven and playing in front of a full house, I can relax, this should be an easy three points shouldn’t it? Well sadly for me, a little blonde Norwegian by the name of Egil Ostenstad had other ideas. After only 11 minutes (most of this time i had spent pinching myself to make sure i was really here) Ostenstad nipped in ahead of a half asleep Gary Pallister to poke Southampton into a shock 1-0 lead to the despair of myself and about 50,000 other Utd fans. This wasn’t in the script! Surely we couldn’t lose at home to Southampton, not today of all days!

The strong belief that i had of United turning games around had deserted me, after only 11 bloody minutes. Why so fickle i hear you ask? I was asking myself the same question at the time and i can only think that it was due to be actually being there in the flesh and wanting the perfect day. Thankfully my always cool-as-a-cucumber dad reassured me, ”plenty of time left yet mate, they’ll be ok.”

Thankfully my panic only lasted a mere 8 minutes, in the 19th minute Gary Pallister redeemed himself by rising to head in a Ryan Giggs corner to make it 1-1. Relief! Panic over! Now sat believing that we would go on and take a control of the game Southampton again had plans to make sure my first trip to see my heroes wouldn’t be as enjoyable as I would have imagined it would be. 

It was a bitterly cold afternoon and the game did little to help the blood pump through your veins, it was a scrappy affair and the cut up Old Trafford pitch was once again doing our usually quick passing game no favours. Half time had been and gone and as the game progressed and United still couldn’t find a way past Southampton’s rearguard much to the frustration of myself and the rest of the home crowd.

The tense feeling within the crowd meant that it was actually very quiet, something that really surprised and disappointed me, although I did my best to listen out for a song so i could try and join in, something that i had desperately wanted to do for years. That might sound silly to you but to me it made me feel like a true fan and whenever I attend a match these days you can always find me in full voice. The more the game progressed the louder I sang, somehow thinking that this is the only thing i can do to help spur the Utd players on towards a winner. Then in the 80th minute my hard work screeching at the top of my lungs was rewarded. 

In a tight game like this one it very often takes something special to make a breakthrough, but in Eric Cantona, United had someone very, very special and once again he had turned one point into three. I went crazy celebrating his goal; you’d have thought we’d just won the league or a cup final. I spent the remaining minutes of the match sat on the edge of my seat chewing away furiously on my finger nails. Thankfully though Southampton were finished, they’d defended doggedly for the majority of the game and had nothing left in the tank to help them rescue a draw. 

I left Old Trafford on cloud nine, it didn’t matter that it was a painfully frustrating match, United had won and that was all that mattered. Yet if you were my mum, sister or one of my mates at school on a Monday morning then you’d have thought that I’d witnessed the greatest game of the century, that was how much I had enjoyed the whole experience looking back on it.

After attending my first game i promised myself to make sure i would go again whenever the chance of a ticket came my way. I have been many times since that cold, grey day back in February 97′ and I still enjoy it as much even now.  As a United fan you will only ever really understand just why it’s called ‘The Theatre Of Dreams’ until you’ve been there.

By Joe Taylor @JoeyTMufc

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